FDU Poll: Little support for ranked choice voting

Try not to laugh — or even snicker — when you read this.

According to an FDU Poll released Tuesday, New Jersey residents “aren’t happy with the direction of the state” and “think our politicians are corrupt” — but they don’t want to change anything.

Let that sink in.

These opinions came through in the results to a question involving choice voting systems — which many municipalities and states are moving to adopt.

For those unfamiliar, in a choice voter system, voters don’t cast a vote for one candidate, but rank several candidates in order from most preferred to least. If no candidate gets a majority of first place votes, the candidate with the least number of first place votes is eliminated, and the votes of their supporters go to whoever those individual voters selected as their second-choice candidate. Votes are re-allocated in this way until one candidate has a majority.

Many feel it’s a way that ensures the most wanted candidate wins — rather than the candidate of a particular party.

Just 37% of New Jersey residents said they support a shift to ranked choice voting, with 42% saying the state shouldn’t switch.

Support was highest among Democrats, who supported ranked choice voting by nine points (43% to 34%), but the idea was underwater among independents (39% supporting, 45% opposing) and strongly opposed among Republicans, with just 23% supporting.

Proponents of ranked choice voting argue that it encourages voters to cast a ballot for the candidate they like best, rather than who they think can win, and therefore helps smaller political parties, and is more likely to elect consensus candidates, who might not be everyone’s favorite, but are broadly acceptable. Opponents claim that it is too complicated for voters and could drive down participation.

Ranked choice voting systems are used today for elections statewide in Maine and Alaska, and in local elections around the country, including in New York City. Bills that have been introduced in the New Jersey Assembly (A5039 and A5410) and Senate (S3369 and S3784) would allow for ranked choice voting in elections for U.S. president in the state, as well as in municipal and school board elections.

Similar bills have been introduced in previous sessions but have not progressed to votes on the floor of either chamber.

Don’t expect that to happen, said Dan Cassino, a professor of government and politics at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and the director of the poll.

“In places where ranked choice voting has been adopted, the major political parties have pushed back hard,” he said. “Absent overwhelming public support, there’s no way legislators are going to do something that hurts their own parties, and that support just isn’t there.”

Support for ranked choice voting is much higher among residents who are less strongly attached to their political parties, with people who consider themselves independents who “lean” toward one party or the other much more likely to support changing to a ranked choice voting system.

For instance, among strong Democrats (those who say that they’re Democrats, rather than saying that they “lean” towards the party), 38% supported ranked choice voting, and 38% opposed. But among leaning Democrats, support was 62%. Similarly, only 19% of strong Republicans supported ranked choice voting, but support was 34% among Republican leaners.

“Voters understand that ranked choice voting is likely to hurt the major parties in New Jersey,” Cassino said. “So, it makes sense that people who are less satisfied with the parties are going to be more likely to support a change.”

Support for ranked choice voting is also much higher among young voters than older ones, with 44% of residents under 45 supporting the change, compared with just 24% of those 65 and over.